What Google’s Zero-Result SERPs Experiment Means for Marketers

In March, Google rolled out zero-result search engine results pages (SERPs) to all users for searches related to local time, calculator functions and unit conversion. It was a whirlwind week for anyone monitoring. Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, said they began “experimenting with a condensed view to further speed up load time.”

As Barry Schwartz shows, if a user searched “time in los angeles” last week, you’d get only an answer box without any search results:

Pretty soon this experiment started getting out of control — at least for marketers — with ads starting to show up:

Screen grab of Google search results for date in london showing no organic results

Then results began displaying answer boxes, plus text ads and the shopping carousel, but with no organic results on searches that didn’t fit the parameters Google outlined:

Screen grab of Google search for lagavulin 16 with no organic links

As SEO marketers were expressing various amounts of frustration on social media (myself included), Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz went deep to explain why zero-result SERPs shouldn’t be a surprise and why the community of search marketers should be prepared for them to continue in the future. In reality, per Dr. Pete, Google has been cutting down on the “10 blue links” for a while now with various search features such as image results, Top Stories, Tweets, etc.

In addition, he adds some nuance to the concern, as we need to consider the search intent compared to the opportunity. Although there may be a large volume of date-/time-related searches, the opportunity is pretty small, as users searching for “time in minneapolis” are likely only looking for a quick answer (that is, unless they were hoping to catch Morris Day and the Time ahead of the big football game).

On Tuesday, Google, via Danny Sullivan, announced that they’ve ended their zero-result SERPs test and everything should be back to normal.

Screen grab of Google search for unit conversion showing organic results

Although the test is done, condensed view is unlikely to be gone for good. Assuming these zero-result SERPs will return, the real concern for content marketers should be, and should always be, to understand user intent and make sure that the content you’re publishing on your website provides value beyond simple answers to the questions users are searching.

As Dr. Pete explains, “Where Google can answer a question, they will try to answer that question, and if organic results add no measurable value (regardless of whether you agree with how Google measures value), they will continue to shrink.”

For more on creating high-quality, valuable content that ranks in search engines, check out our Quality Content Series.

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